Estate planning. It’s not one of the most pleasant topics because you have to admit your own mortality. But, for people who want to take care of their loved ones, estate planning is essential. Without a plan, distribution of your estate will be determined by a court or a bureaucrat—probably not the way you want it done.
How do you find a great estate attorney who can guide you through the estate planning maze? Interview them. Financial writer Dan Moskowitz has provided 10 questions to ask estate attorneys to help you find the right one:
What is your experience in dealing with trusts and estates? The quality of this answer will depend on your requirements, but you definitely want to hire someone who has been in the business for a minimum of three years.
How long will it take you to complete my estate planning project? In most cases, there is no rush. The key is to avoid the probate process (more on this soon).
Will you send estate planning documentation for me to review? Even if you’re working with the most experienced estate planning attorney in the world, you want to review documentation to make sure everything is set up as you intended. Your attorney may be highly skilled, but there’s always the possibility of a miscommunication.
Will you be able to assist me with funding my assets into a revocable living trust? Not all estate planning attorneys will help fund a trust. Assets also must be titled in your name while you’re alive.
Do you offer a formal updating and maintenance program? For a small fee, some estate planning attorneys will offer a semi-annual or annual review. This is important because there may be changes to laws and taxes, as well as to your life. In regards to the latter, adjustments to your estate might be necessary.
Do you quote a fixed price after reviewing my estate planning project? You want this answer to be “yes.” Any estate planning attorney who charges by the hour is not likely to be acting in your best interest, and knowing the charges are hourly, you’re not likely to be very comfortable. Also, some estate planning attorneys will switch from a fixed rate to an hourly rate after a certain amount of work is complete. Be sure to inquire about this possibility so you’re not surprised down the road.
If you’re not available and I need help with something, will anyone else in your office be familiar enough with my estate to help if I have a question? Most estate planning attorneys will make themselves available, so this shouldn’t be a big concern, but it’s still a good question to ask.
If any unexpected issues arise that are indirectly related to my estate, will you be able to help? You’re not looking for a specific answer here. This is more about seeing how the attorney responds. Is he or she willing to offer a little extra? Or is the response all-business and cold? It’s
Is your primary focus on estate planning? You’re looking for a “yes.”
How do we (or I) avoid the probate process? If the attorney directs you toward a will and probate, he might be more focused on his income than your estate planning project. The probate process is expensive and time-consuming. According to LegalZoom, probate costs total $2 billion per year, with $1.5 billion attributed to attorney fees. If, on the other hand, an estate planning attorney guides you toward a living trust, he or she is much more likely to have good intentions.
The Bottom Line
Every situation is different, but asking an estate planning attorney these 10 questions should provide you with a lot of information to help you decide whether that person is the best option for you, which also would mean the best option for your spouse and/or children.